Wednesday, April 5, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Baseball is back, and the Las Vegas 51s will lift the lid on their 35th season Thursday in El Paso, Texas.
All of the players are excited to get the season underway, but none more than newly appointed manager Pedro Lopez.
“I was ready two weeks ago but finally we are here and everybody is starting to get settled,” Lopez said at media day on Tuesday. “Now it’s all about playing ball and getting guys better.”
Lopez was promoted to the 51s in December after managing in lower levels of the Mets organization for nine seasons. Most recently Lopez managed Double A Binghamton, N.Y., for five seasons, where he leaves as the all-time winningest manager in team history with 377 wins.
He replaces Wally Backman, who resigned after managing the 51s the past five seasons.
“I’m excited and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Lopez said. “For the last seven weeks I’ve been waiting for this opportunity, and now I finally have this uniform on. Finally we are in Las Vegas and it’s all about taking care of business.”
Lopez, who was born in Puerto Rico, played 13 seasons in the minor leagues including a year with the Las Vegas All-Stars in 1994. He retired from playing in 2000 and immediately started managing.
In his 15-year managing career, he has an all-time record of 809-740 (.522).
“The front office put a lot of faith in me, and now I just have to go out there and do my thing,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s trademark is defense, and this 51s roster could excel at it.
“I think the offense looks really good but I never want to talk about the offense,” Lopez said. “I’ve always said throughout my years in baseball and managing that you win championships with pitching and defense. I think we have the pitching and I certainly know that we have the defense.”
First baseman Dominic Smith, second baseman Gavin Cecchini and shortstop Amed Rosario are among the top prospects in the Mets organization, and all have great gloves, according to Lopez.
“I’m very excited to be here, especially in Triple A,” said Smith, who enters his first season in the Pacific Coast League. “It’s one step away from everybody’s dream, which is playing in the big leagues. We have a really good team here and a bunch of guys that have played in the big leagues. I’m excited to learn from these guys and help my game.”
The 51s roster has a good mix of top young prospects and veteran minor leaguers and should be prepped for another good season after last year’s 70-74 mark snapped a 4-year streak of winning seasons.
“We are really versatile in the infield and the outfield so I think it’s going to be fun to watch,” Lopez said. “Hopefully we can stay healthy throughout the year and hopefully we can get some guys better and get them promoted to the big leagues.”
One guy who won’t be playing at Cashman for long is Rosario, who is considered among the top 5 prospects in all of baseball. The 21-year-old hit .324 last year with 42 extra-base hits, 71 runs batted in and stole 19 bases in 120 games with St. Lucie of the Class A Advanced Florida State League and under Lopez at Binghamton.
Rosario will be a star for as long as he’s in Las Vegas.
“I’m very excited to play,” Rosario said. “I’m just focused on doing my job and if I get home runs then I get home runs.”
The 51s begin the season with a five-game road trip against the defending PCL champion El Paso Chihuahuas before hosting Fresno in their home opener on April 11.